Greeley Water Relies on Gender Equality to Succeed

America’s water industry could learn a thing or two from Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department regarding gender equality in the workplace.

In 1987, Congress chose March as Women’s History Month to celebrate women and their worth to families, their communities, and the world. While many professions succeed in recruiting women for a more balanced gender equality, that hasn’t been the case in the U.S. water industry. According to the Brookings Institution, an American research group, women represent only 15% of the U.S. water utility workforce, and most of those are administrative positions.

By comparison, 23.6% of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department are women.

  • Support positions: 13
  • Technical/Analytical: 11
  • Leadership: 8
  • Engineers: 2

“Diverse perspectives and experience are key to good decision-making and leadership,” said Sean Chambers, director of Greeley Water and Sewer. “While people might think of utilities as male-dominant cultures, at Greeley Water, female employees make important contributions to all aspects of our operations from planning, engineering, and leadership.

Gender equality is among our core values, and we seek to be inclusive across all our work teams.”

Nina Cudahy: Embracing Change

Nina Cudahy is the deputy director of operations and maintenance for the City of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department. She began her 32-year career in the industry as an environmental quality control technician I for the City of Omaha, Nebraska. She moved to Greeley four years ago for her current position.

“This is an exciting time for women in the utility industry,” Nina said. “More women are entering the science fields and are being recognized for their skills and ability. I am no longer the only woman in meetings, which is a refreshing change.”

Opportunities to grow

In the next decade, the U.S. water industry faces challenges such as rebuilding an aging infrastructure, responding to climate change, and replacing skilled workers as they reach retirement age.

“Young professionals have opportunities in the job market that I have never seen in my career,” Nina said. “There is overwhelming support for those who demonstrate their ability and show an interest in career progression.”

Nina gave credit for her success to a former supervisor who included her in meetings with key staff members and assigned her unique projects. She believes building relationships is vital to career progression and encourages women to join professional organizations, such as the Young Professionals Committee with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Student Chapter of the AWWA.

“Don’t be afraid to follow your passion or try new things,” she said. “Reach out to other women in the industry to see what made a difference in their career. Build relationships with other professionals and stay connected with each other.”

Bright future

Nina believes the water industry provides excellent opportunities for young women wanting to make a difference in their communities.
“As more women enter this field, others will feel confident to pursue their interests in utilities, and there will eventually be a balanced workforce,” she said.

Sydney Phillips Grace: Swimming with the Sharks

Sydney Phillips Grace dreamed of becoming a marine biologist as a young girl. Still, her fascination with the ocean was overshadowed by a fear of something else: sharks!

“I think I watched too many ‘Jaws’ movies,” Sydney laughed.

Sydney attended the University of Texas-Austin and received a bachelor’s in environmental science and a minor in biological sciences. Today, she is a water quality analyst for Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department.

Several hydrology-related college courses sparked Sydney’s interest in the water industry. She gravitated toward water sustainability and its importance to communities.

“As someone with a background in source water quality, I enjoy the added challenge of Greeley’s (water) distribution system,” Sydney said. “The quality of Greeley’s drinking water is directly impacted by the source water quality.”

Calm, cool and collected

Sydney’s calm, reassuring voice is often the first thing customers hear when they have questions about water quality. Greeley residents are accustomed to great-tasting water directly from Rocky Mountain snowmelt. Customers notice and want answers when something happens that affects their water quality, such as the summer increase of algae blooms in lakes where Greeley gets its water.

“I get a sense of fulfillment and contentment when I can reassure our customers and ease their anxiety,” Sydney said.

Challenges await

Sydney encourages young women to consider a career in the water industry. She is undoubtedly glad her fear of sharks guided her to the front range.

“I overcame doubt and found my confidence,” Sydney said. “Keep pushing. Follow your passion. If you hit a wall here or there, that doesn’t mean you can’t go through it.”

Tia Miller: Dino-mite!

On Tia Miller’s list of potential careers, water inventory coordinator was way down the list. At the top? Paleontologist. Yes, Tia wanted to study dinosaurs.

Tia’s favorite dinosaur is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose closest living relatives are birds. This could explain why Tia has an affinity for chickens. (She has 50.)

Fortunately for Greeley, she decided to pursue a career helping to protect our drinking water.

Tia recently became certified as a backflow prevention assembly tester. That means she can test and track backflow assemblies for state compliance and ensure no harmful substances can backflow into the city’s water distribution system. She supports a team of employees responsible for repairing water and sewer breaks and backups.

“I am most proud of helping my teams get what they need when needed,” Tia said. “My teams are up in the middle of the night responding to calls and repairing breaks so folks can wake up, turn on the faucet, and flush the toilet,” Tia said.

“Can I get a water to go?”

Tia helped introduce bulk water stations into the city. These structures, slightly bigger than a phone booth, allow customers to purchase water in bulk. Think of it as a drive-thru for employees in construction, oil and gas, and mobile vehicle detailers.

Customers drive up, swipe up, and fill up.

Tia said there are currently two bulk water stations in Greeley, but three more are planned to make the system more efficient. The stations also prevent wear and tear on fire hydrants.

Open doors

Tia feels welcomed by the city and fortunate to work for a water department primed to handle Greeley’s forecasted population growth.

“I am proud of how much I’ve learned about an industry I didn’t know much about,” Tia said. “Our diversified water portfolio gives us opportunities that other cities don’t. Many communities can’t sustain large growth like Greeley can because they don’t have a diverse portfolio.”

Cadee Oakleaf: Protecting our environment

Cadee Oakleaf is one of two female civil engineers with the City of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department and oversees the Nitrification Project at Greeley’s Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Facility.

Cadee oversees the $35.5 million project that reduces the amount of nutrients in treated water the facility pumps back into the Poudre River.

“I work with a team of people, including consultants and contractors, to make the project a success,” Cadee said. “We want to improve the process and ensure that the plant can maintain operations and stay within regulations while being diligent about how we spend the rate payers’ dollars.”

Room to grow

According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, women accounted for only 5.8% of water and wastewater operators. Cadee is proud of her accomplishments and hopes other young women consider a career in the wastewater industry.

“Keeping an open mind and saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities, even if they aren’t part of your original plan, is important,” Cadee said. “You never know where that might lead you.

“I had no interest in wastewater back in college,” she said, “but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

The City of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department has full-time and seasonal intern positions available. Whether you are just starting out in the water industry or looking for something new and exciting, you can find it when you join the City of Greeley in building careers that shape our community.